Elijah Wellman is known to many as a hard-nosed fullback who has become a staple in the Mountaineers goal line and short yardage packages over the past two seasons, but minutes before Saturday's Gold-Blue game kicked off, the Buffalo Creek native was recognized for the hard work and dedication that he has put in over the course of the off-season. Wellman joined fellow Mountaineers Tyler Orlosky, Darrien Howard and Daikiel Shorts as the 20th class of Iron Mountaineer winners, an accolade which is voted on by players and given annually to those who excel in the off-season strength and conditioning program. Wellman spoke about winning the award and the added importance it has since he is a West Virginia native.
"For a guy like me who is from West Virginia born and raised, and being a Mountaineer fan for my entire life, it means everything to me," he said. "Some people don't know how much that actually means, but it means the world to me. I couldn't get the smile off my face."
It is somewhat fitting that Wellman is taking home an award for the work that he has put in when there aren't 60,000 fans watching, because as a fullback his duties often get overlooked by the casual fan. The red-shirt junior has only 16 career rushing attempts with the Mountaineers but he has been an integral part of the Mountaineer run game, lead-blocking for running backs Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell over the last two seasons. Wellman is often tasked with crushing linebackers into submission in short-yardage and goal-line situations, and despite the fact that the average fan may not recognize how important his role is in WVU's offense, his teammates have obviously noticed. Wellman is considered a leader in the Mountaineer locker room and that provides him with the motivation needed to grind so hard in the weight room.
"Being a leader it's definitely a joy for me to go in there and work my butt off, lead by example, pull my teammates along and work hard and get better," Wellman said.
All though he is primarily known for his blocking ability he has managed to catch three touchdown passes over the past two seasons, and that could be a part of his game that expands in the Mountaineer offense due to the departure of Cody Clay. The Mountaineers have run several sets in practice where Wellman split out wide, and he has shown the ability to make some tough catches down field. On the second drive of Saturday's Gold-Blue game, Wellman hauled in a two yard reception from Skyler Howard for the first touchdown of the scrimmage. On top of being more of a receiving threat, Wellman could also be leaned on to run the ball more in the coming season due to the departures of Jacky Marcellus and Donte Thomas-Williams earlier this spring.
When was asked about his expanding role as a threat to score on the goal line, Wellman acknowledged that it could be a much larger part of his game in 2016.
"You never know with play calling, they could call a different play that has nothing to do with me," he said. "But if the play's called then I'll do my best to get in there, absolutely."
Whether Wellman's role as a pass-catching tight end expands in 2016 is yet to be seen, but either way the hard-nosed, blue collar kid from Buffalo Creek will continue to be an indispensable piece in the Mountaineer's offense, and the work ethic he's demonstrated each off-season is a major reason why.